Huntley: the hard lessons

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Can schools help prevent a repeat of the Soham murders? Michael Shaw reports on the Bichard inquiry.

Headteachers and governors should be trained in spotting potential child-abusers to prevent a repeat of the mistakes which helped Soham murderer Ian Huntley gain a job as a school caretaker.

The proposal was one of a raft of school-related recommendations made this week in the report of an inquiry led by Sir Michael Bichard.

Sir Michael also called for a new system to vet people who work with children. He said they could be issued with licences or identity cards containing information such as their fingerprints.

The inquiry found that Huntley was employed as a caretaker at Soham village college in 2001, despite being previously accused of sex offences against under-16s, because of a "deeply shocking" catalogue of errors and failures.

Sir Michael stressed that Huntley was the only person responsible for killing Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. But he said that the errors which had helped the murderer get his job were extremely worrying. "One cannot be confident that it was Huntley alone who slipped through the net," he said.

The inquiry placed nearly all of the blame on Humberside and Cambridgeshire police, which had mishandled and deleted data about the murderer.

Soham village college was praised for its achievements and the strong leadership of its principal Howard Gilbert. But the inquiry said Mr Gilbert should not have accepted the open job references provided by Huntley and should have followed them up.

Education Personnel Management, which handled the school's personnel, was also criticised for suggesting it had checked Huntley's details when it had not examined them fully.

However, the inquiry noted that even if the school and EPM had demanded extra information, police mistakes meant they still would not have learned of Huntley's past.

Sir Michael recommended that school interview panels should have at least one member trained in spotting child protection risks.

"There still seems to be a general belief that interviewing, selection and recruitment are skills that can be acquired from experience," he said. "But this is not good enough where child protection is concerned."

Sir Michael told The TES that a one-day course being developed by the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children would be appropriate.

He recommended that a new national body be established to register every person who wants to work with children. The Department for Education and Skills is already considering issuing teachers with licences or ID cards, but Sir Michael said that he did not believe that teachers would need to carry the cards to school every day.

He stressed it was not possible to create an infallible system. "The harsh reality is that if a sufficiently devious person is determined to seek out opportunities to work their evil, no one can guarantee that they will be stopped."

The Home Office and the DfES said they would support plans to make school selection panels include trained members and would look urgently at the feasibility of the inquiry's other recommendations.

Teachers' unions broadly welcomed the proposals - though the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said that schools could face problems training governors and heads.


* Headteachers and governors should be trained to spot adults who might pose a threat to children. No school interview panels should be conducted without at least one member with such training.

* A rigorous new registration system should be set up for people who wish to work with children.

* The Government should consider issuing everyone cleared to work with children with a licence or ID card, possibly containing biometric information such as fingerprints.

* All applicants for posts at schools should be given enhanced, rather than standard, criminal checks until new systems are developed.

* The Office for Standards in Education should check that schools'

interview systems are effective at protecting children.

* The Department for Education and Skills should provide new guidance to help the public decide whether they should report relationships between under-16s and adults to police.

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